The Shifting Landscape of Global Internet Censorship

28 Pages Posted: 1 Jul 2017 Last revised: 17 Nov 2017

See all articles by Jonathan L. Zittrain

Jonathan L. Zittrain

Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government; Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Berkman Center for Internet & Society; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Robert Faris

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Helmi Noman

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Justin Clark

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Casey Tilton

Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Ryan Morrison-Westphal

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Date Written: June 1, 2017

Abstract

A sharp increase in web encryption and a worldwide shift away from standalone websites in favor of social media and online publishing platforms has altered the practice of state-level Internet censorship and in some cases led to broader crackdowns, the Internet Monitor project at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University finds. This study documents the practice of Internet censorship around the world through empirical testing in 45 countries of the availability of 2,046 of the world’s most-trafficked and influential websites, plus additional country-specific websites. The study finds evidence of filtering in 26 countries across four broad content themes: political, social, topics related to conflict and security, and Internet tools (a term that includes censorship circumvention tools as well as social media platforms). The majority of countries that censor content do so across all four themes, although the depth of the filtering varies.

The study confirms that 40 percent of these 2,046 websites can only be reached by an encrypted connection (denoted by the "HTTPS" prefix on a web page, a voluntary upgrade from "HTTP"). While some sites can be reached by either HTTP or HTTPS, total encrypted traffic to the 2,046 sites has more than doubled to 31 percent in 2017 from 13 percent in 2015, the study finds. Meanwhile, and partly in response to the protections afforded by encryption, activists in particular and web users in general around the world are increasingly relying on major platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Wikipedia.

Suggested Citation

Zittrain, Jonathan and Faris, Robert and Noman, Helmi and Clark, Justin and Tilton, Casey and Morrison-Westphal, Ryan, The Shifting Landscape of Global Internet Censorship (June 1, 2017). Berkman Klein Center Research Publication No. 2017-4; Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 17-38. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2993485 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2993485

Jonathan Zittrain

Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Robert Faris

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Helmi Noman

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Justin Clark (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Casey Tilton

Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Ryan Morrison-Westphal

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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